Molly Hill’s wine journey began at the young age of 18. Originally a Biology major at UC Davis, the experience of working just one harvest at Beringer Wine Estates inspired Molly to change her major, and ultimately, her life.
After graduating from the UC Davis viticulture and enology program, Hill first sharpened her skills and winemaking intuition at Sea Smoke Cellars in Santa Barbara County and then at Viña Isidro in Chile. While there, Michael Trujillo, well-respected Sequoia Grove winemaker, contacted her with a job offer. She joined Sequoia Grove in 2003 at the relatively young age of 24 and in just five years, she was promoted winemaker.
Since then, Molly has overseen all winemaking and production operations at Sequoia Grove. She also advises on grower relations and has input in the vineyards. Her passion and commitment to top-quality grape growing and winemaking is evident in her world-class wines that are praised by trade and consumers across the country.
In this installment of our “Vintner Profile” series, Nelson Gerena sat down with Molly to learn more about her winemaking journey, what drew her to Sequoia Grove, and what makes the winery unique.
Which wine was your “a-ha!” wine – the one that made you love wine or inspired you to get into the industry?
I was only 18 when I discovered the wine industry…so my ‘a-ha’ wine was actually a book! It was the Heartbreak Grape about Josh Jansen starting Calera winery. The struggle, the challenges, the curiosity–it all captivated me.
What drew you to Sequoia Grove?
I was lucky in that I was introduced to then-winemaker Mike Trujillo, by Herb and Jennifer Lamb (all three of them considered titans in the industry), because Herb and Jennifer were college friends of my parents. However, I told Mike Trujillo that I would only work with him for one year. One year seemed like a long time to young me but to Mike, it didn’t seem very long at all! Seventeen years later, I’m still here. It is the two guiding principles given to me by the owners that keep me here: quality and integrity with everything that we do.
Can you describe your approach to winemaking in five words or less?
Listening to what the vineyard wants to be (if you remove the tiny words, that’s five!).
Sequoia Grove is well–known for their exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. Is that your favorite variety to work with in the winery? And if not, what is?
All the wines are my favorite. Every wine, every vineyard site, every vintage is a mystery waiting to be unlocked. Mother Nature creates this very layered, complex puzzle, and it’s up to the winemaker to unlock it.
What makes Sequoia Grove unique?
We make elegant, nuanced wines with the goal to be the greatest in the world. The greatest wines in the world have a sense of place (terroir), varietal correctness, age ability, and balance (nothing sticks out). Additionally, there is a ‘fairy ring’ of Sequoia trees planted on the property. A fairy ring is a natural phenomenon where the mother tree dies, and saplings grow around the base of her trunk. Because she is no longer living, the saplings have more sunlight, grow taller, and form a ring around her. At Sequoia Grove, you can stand in the center of the ring and look up. It is a magical experience.
What do you enjoy most about being a vintner in Napa? What do you enjoy the least?
The sense of community is amazing. The drive in the community to be the best in the world in all aspects of what we do is exhilarating. There is very little I enjoy least.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your role in overseeing all winemaking and production operations of the winery as well as helping with grower relations?
Balancing all of that with being a mother and a wife.
What advice would you give the younger Molly just embarking on her career in winemaking?
Your most challenging vintages will be your best.
Renowned for producing some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, Sequoia Grove also produces a number of other elegant and complex wines worth seeking out. A few of our favorites are listed below:
2017 Napa Valley Chardonnay
Sourced from four cool-climate sites within Napa Valley, this elegant Chardonnay has delicate primary aromas of Meyer lemon, lime, Asian pear, white peach, and a hint of toast. On the palate, the wine is a beautiful expression of California fruit handled with restraint. It is versatile and can be paired with a wide range of dishes and cuisines. Drink now.
2016 Cabernet Franc
The first aromas you sense from this wine are of concentrated and rich, black fruit. Then, secondary and tertiary aromas of vanilla, leather, cedar, and spice. wine tastes rich and complex with flavors of blueberry, black plum, black cherries, and dark chocolate. The tannins are chewy and the finish is generous. This wine is built to last! Drink now or hold.
Ripe aromas of blackberry and red plum are complemented by rich flavors of raspberry, blueberry, plum, spice, cedar, and a hint of menthol. The medium body and long finish make this wine a beautiful pairing with barbeque ribs or a juicy burger. Drink now.